Courtland Precinct polling place likely to move

Published 11:00 am Tuesday, January 24, 2023

[Update: The Southampton County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously Tuesday, Jan. 24, to move the Courtland Precinct polling place to the Courtland Ruritan Club building following a public hearing.]

The process is underway to potentially change the Courtland Precinct’s polling place from the Courtland Volunteer Fire Department to the Courtland Ruritan Club building, which is located at 26484 Old Plank Road.

Other polling place changes are happening in Southampton County due to the county’s recent redistricting, but this Courtland Precinct polling place change is different because it is coming about after the relevant ordinance was written.

The Southampton County Board of Supervisors voted Dec. 20 to authorize a public hearing on the Courtland Precinct polling place move at its Tuesday, Jan. 24, meeting. County Administrator Brian S. Thrower explained why this hearing was necessary in a staff report found within the December board meeting packet.

“In order to move forward with this change, you will need to amend Section 5-16 of County Code,” he stated. “A public hearing is required prior to adoption of these ordinance amendments.”

THE FIRE DEPARTMENT’S REQUEST

The change in polling place was prompted by request of the fire department.

Southampton County Director of Elections Lynn Burgess presented Thrower with a letter from the CVFD during the Dec. 20 meeting.

“‘Courtland Volunteer Fire Department notified the voter registrar office on 6/27 that the organization would like to disband the use of the Courtland Volunteer Fire Department as a polling place after the November 2022 election,’” Burgess said, reading the letter. “‘Though this building has been used for many years as a polling place, the members of the Courtland Volunteer Fire Department have voted collectively to stop the use of the building as a polling place. We hope that you understand.’”

CHAIRMAN EDWARDS’ REQUEST

Prior to Burgess’ presentation, Jerusalem District Supervisor and Board Chairman Dr. Alan W. Edwards requested an explanation for why the fire department no longer wanted to be a polling place. After Burgess read from the CVFD’s letter, she acknowledged there was not a lot of explanation.

“There’s actually no explanation,” Edwards said. “They’re saying, ‘We don’t want to do it again.’ Why? I think I’d like to know why, because I’d like to see what’s going to happen with our other fire departments. Are they going to follow suit? Do we have a problem there that we know about?”

He asked for a friendly explanation to see if there was a problem that the county could try to fix and avoid similar problems at the other fire departments.

Thrower said, “I can reach out to the Courtland folks that run the fire department and try to get some more information. I think a lot of times it’s just they don’t like the inconvenience of their facility being utilized for something else other than fighting fires. But we can find out more information on that.”

THE FIRE DEPARTMENT’S EXPLANATION

In a Tuesday, Jan. 17, interview, Thrower noted that his prediction of the fire department’s reasoning proved to be correct.

“I reached out to them,” he said. “The primary purpose of the fire department is to fight fire, so it’s just more of an inconvenience to have an election there when their building’s primary purpose is associated with fire fighting. That’s kind of the primary reason.”

He then added a few other issues stated by the CVFD.

“Their call volume is increasing; there’s exhaust from fumes from trucks; I think they’re having some issues with their air conditioning unit — it’s kind of on its last leg,” he said.

CONTRACTS WITH POLLING PLACES

During the Dec. 20 board meeting, Burgess explained that the county has contracts with community buildings and churches and polling places of that nature but not with the fire departments in the county that serve as polling places.

“The contract was originally drawn up to give us a 12-month notice either way, us or them, so that they couldn’t just cut us off, really, (at) the last second,” she said. “And that was my fear when they came to me this year, because I was on the verge of getting ballots printed and getting ready for absentee voting, and I asked them if they would please work with me through the November election cycle,” which they readily did.

“So, yes, I think it would be advantageous to everyone if we had contracts with every single polling place,” she said.

Thrower indicated that this will happen.

“Going forward, we’re going to put contracts in place with all the polling places to make sure everybody’s on the same page in terms of use of their facilities,” he said.

Drewryville District Supervisor David B. Everett asked if the county donates funds to the fire departments, and Newsoms District Supervisor Lynda T. Updike said it does.

“Then why are we sitting here talking about them taking and not allowing us to use the building?” he asked.

Edwards said, “Don’t we give everybody $10,000?”

“I’ve been in the Drewryville Fire Department for 30 years, and it’s not an issue,” Everett said. “They donate $10,000, and they use the fire department. And so it’s all new to me. I don’t understand it. Now if we weren’t giving any money, then I could understand it, and we’d be lucky to get the Ruritan Club.”

Boykins District Supervisor Carl J. Faison said, “I just have so much respect for the work that the fire departments do that I would hate to see the county put some type of restriction or whatever on them to say that we would expect them to do something besides fight fire.”

Burgess said she does not think the volunteer fire departments are owned by the county, and Thrower added, “As far as I’m aware, the volunteer fire departments are owned separately.”

Later in the meeting, he also said, “To be clear, without any agreement in place with the Courtland Volunteer Fire Department, you can’t mandate that you have an election there. So that’s the reason we should go toward having agreements with all the fire departments.”

THE COURTLAND RURITAN CLUB BUILDING

Burgess said she reached out to the Courtland Ruritan Club and asked if it would be willing to allow its building to be the polling place for the Courtland Precinct. 

“Their general membership voted to allow the use of their building to Southampton County as a polling place,” she said.

Later in the meeting, she noted that the Ruritan Club building offers a much better setup for a polling place in Courtland than the fire department.

“There’s more parking, the flow of traffic will be much better there, the building is a better utilization of people flowing through it,” she said.

UPDATE ON COUNTY REDISTRICTING

In September 2022, the Board of Supervisors voted, under state requirement, to approve a redistricting ordinance that transitioned Southampton County from having seven districts to five.

During the board’s Dec. 20 meeting, Burgess provided an update on how the work was going to move the county’s electoral operations into alignment with the redistricting.

“We are planning on switching to the new environment by the end of this week, and when I say ‘the new environment,’ the local redistricting will be implemented and in place,” she said. “And we have a special election for the 4th Congressional District coming up February the 21st, so those new polling places will be in place for that 4th Congressional special election.”